Elevator investigations move farther afield with a side trip to Alta, Iowa

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The trademark rounded headhouse identifies the Tillotson elevator, shown here behind the office and truck scale.

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

It is getting harder to visit our grandfathers’ elevators. All of the elevators within a half hour either side of the I-80 corridor have already been exhausted, so a stop for photography requires real planning and extra gas, time, and effort, even when piggybacked on our normal family visit to Nebraska.

The trip to Alta, Iowa, required just such an extra investment in driving time. The town and its Tillotson elevator is just north-west of Storm Lake in the northwestern corner of the state, and is not, quite frankly, on the way to anywhere.

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The Tillotson elevator in Alta, Iowa, where the old structure is mostly obscured by later bins.

I wonder how our kids put up with it. This trip in particular required over an hour’s northward jaunt before angling generally east-northeast, with a 30-minute divot or two along the Nebraska-to-Illinois route. Each detour took in wayward sites, including Alta.

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A look up the rail line opposite the Tillotson elevator revealed the historical trappings of town, with a backdrop of new grain bins.

It is normally a 10-hour drive to get home from visiting their grandparents, but this elevator excursion would tax my children’s patience for several more hours. To be fair, we got an extra early start. But that meant the serious backseat fidgeting would start sooner.

You would think that I would study Tillotson records first, and inject some discipline and efficiency into planning our route.

But no, that task was left for after the trip, so I could see how closely we approached several sites without seeing them.

I don’t think the kids minded the near misses–but they’ll get to see the countryside again when we go through to mop up the strays.

 

A long-time elevator man sends greetings from Hardy, Iowa, and shares some lore

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Story and photos by Larry Larsen

In response to a recent post about Odebolt, Iowa, we heard from Larry Larsen, who works for Gold Eagle Cooperative’s facility in Hardy, Iowa. Larry says Tillotson Construction Company’s elevator, built there in 1956, is “still operating and used daily!”

GilmoreCity08Larry graduated from high school in Gilmore City, Iowa. His father managed an elevator from 1958 to 2008, and Larry remembers high school summers spent cleaning out and painting silos.

After getting in touch with us, Larry took an excursion and delivered some photos of the Gilmore City elevator. It was built in 1949, a year when Tillotson also built elevators in Dalhart, Tex., Hooker, Okla., Hordville, Neb., West Bend, Iowa, and Montevideo, Minn., among other places.

Larry, who served 25 years in the United States Army, shared these additional reminiscences:

“I know a lot of the facilities in my old stomping grounds are [built by] Todd & Sargent. The facilities built in the 1980s and 1990s were done by Lambert & Hamlin.

“Interesting thing–I found out through my dad in early 2000s that Lambert & Hamlin built or started to build two concrete tanks in the town of Rutland, Iowa, and about halfway into that project they went bankrupt, causing Pro Cooperative to find a contractor mid-pour to finish the project.

GilmoreCity06“Pro Cooperative then became receiver of Lambert & Hamlin’s property in Sioux City.

“A lot of interesting history in many of the small towns all around the Midwest with the construction of elevators. Some communities had their population double when crews came to town.

“Reading the blogs, there was also a lot of tragedy involved, with people falling off the partially completed structures. I remember, in the early ’80s, Lambert & Hamlin was doing a slip in the tiny town of Pioneer, Iowa.

“They had a laborer who was smoking pot as he was tying rebar on the night shift. Said individual stopped tying rebar to light a joint, lost his balance, and fell 80 or so feet to his death.

“Slipping never paused for that.”

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Looking inside and outside of Tillotson’s elevator in Cavalier, N.D.

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Story by Ronald Ahrens with photos by Scott Hansen

While looking at the specifications for Tillotson Construction Company’s concrete elevator built at Cavalier, N.D., in 1948, we gave a call to CHS, Inc. and reached Scott Hansen, who oversees operations at the 460,000-bushel facility there.

South view.

South view. Click on the image to enlarge it.

Hansen said the Tillotson elevator is mainly used for extra capacity during harvest. The operation mainly handles wheat, he said in a subsequent text message, “but also a lot of soybeans and corn.”

He offered to take some pictures, and we present them here, along with repeating the specs from our post of July 27.

This elevator was built according to the plan used for an elevator at Sheldon, Iowa, in 1941. It featured a center driveway and four tanks, each being 14.5 feet in diameter and rising 102 feet. Total capacity was 93,700 bushels.

The job required 1,027 tons of reinforced concrete and 55.13 tons of steel.

At 18 inches thick and covering 1,768 square feet, the main slab supported a gross weight as as high as 5,321 tons. Eight bins were overhead in the 12-by-17-foot driveway.

Crowning the main house was a cupola, or headhouse, of 15.5 x 32 x 22.5 feet, and the pulley center in this single-leg elevator was 127.0 feet above the floor.

North view.

North view. The blue conveyor fills the structure; the gray one on the ground empties it.

Boot and head pulleys were 60 x 14 inches, but the head pulley’s axle diameter of 3-7/16 inches was 1.25 inches greater than the boot’s.

The 14-inch, 6-ply Calumet belt had cups of 12 x 6-inches spaced 10 inches apart. A 20-hp Howell motor supplied the drive in the headhouse. Actual leg capacity was 4500 bushels per hour.

A 2-hp motor operated the man lift. (Lifts in some Tillotson elevators of this era were still hand-operated.)

Cavalier was a fully accessorized elevator, with a 10-bushel load-out scale, an 8-inch load-out spout of 10-gauge steel, and 14-gauge cupola spouting. There was a 7.5-hp truck lift and a dust collection system consisting of a fan, column, and bin.

In the space for remarks at the page’s bottom, we find written, “One end round on cupola.” Yet the photo shows both ends are rounded.

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A Tillotson elevator, fully accessorized when new, remains on call for extra capacity in Cavalier, N.D.

My uncles have said Tillotson Construction Company built elevators in a swath extending from Alberta, Canada, to the southeastern United States. Records show activity in Estill, S.C. and Millet Ville [sic], S.C., for example, but we haven’t seen anything to substantiate the claim about Alberta.

IMG_6962Tillotson was active in North Dakota, though. In 1948, the company built an elevator in Cavalier, N.D. Named for the early settler Charles Cavileer, this town of about 1,300 people–the seat of Pembina County–is located in the extreme northeastern part of the state, about 20 miles from the United States-Canada border.

After finding the elevator on Google Maps, we made a phone call to the CHS, Inc., on Airport Road, in Cavalier. Scott Hansen, who answered, said the complex, pictured above, has capacity for 460,000 bushels, and the old concrete elevator is used for extra space during the harvest.

The record shows it was built on Tillotson’s Sheldon, Iowa, plan with four tanks, each being 14.5 feet in diameter and standing 102 feet tall. Overall capacity was rated at 93,700 bushels.

The job required 1,027 tons of reinforced concrete and 55.13 tons of steel.

At 18 inches thick and covering 1,768 square feet, the main slab supported a gross weight as as high as 5,321 tons. Eight bins were overhead in the 12-by-17-foot driveway.

IMG_6961Crowning the main house was a cupola, or headhouse, of 15.5 x 32 x 22.5 feet, and the pulley center in this single-leg elevator was 127.0 feet above the floor.

Boot and head pulleys were 60 x 14 inches, but the head pulley’s axle diameter of 3-7/16 inches was 1.25 inches greater than the boot’s.

The 14-inch, 6-ply Calumet belt had cups of 12 x 6-inches spaced 10 inches apart. A 20-hp Howell motor supplied the drive in the headhouse. Actual leg capacity was 4500 bushels per hour.

A 2-hp motor operated the man lift. (Lifts in some Tillotson elevators of this era were still hand-operated.)

Cavalier was a fully accessorized elevator, with a 10-bushel load-out scale, an 8-inch load-out spout of 10-gauge steel, and 14-gauge cupola spouting. There was a 7.5-hp truck lift and a dust collection system consisting of a fan, column, and bin.

In the space for remarks at the page’s bottom, we find written, “One end round on cupola.” Yet the photo shows both ends are rounded.

How we would love to know the job’s cost! Alas, a call to the Pembina County historical society revealed that all old copies of the Cavalier Chronicle are out of our reach on microfilm.

With its stepped headhouse, could the elevator in Odebolt, Iowa, be from Mayer-Osborn’s lineage?

Story by Ronald Ahrens with photos by Brad Perry

Blen NorthRecords of the Tillotson Construction Company show no information on the grain elevator at Blencoe, Iowa. A previous post presents recent photos from Blencoe as well as delving into mysteries surrounding the Tillotson elevator and the one by Mayer-Osborn Company.

Now Brad Perry volunteers his own photos from Blencoe, which is just off Interstate 29 less than an hour’s drive north of Council Bluffs. Here we see the Tillotson, with the curved headhouse, and the Mayer-Osborn, with the stepped headhouse.

Supplying more photos, Brad raises an interesting question: could the elevator at Odebolt, Iowa, which is 63 miles to the northeast, be part of the Mayer-Osborn lineage? It also has a stepped headhouse. He notes that they had to have been built at the same time. It stood near the elevator of the Cracker Jack Company, which had operations in Odebolt.

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Brad supplies the link to a black-and-white image in the University of Iowa’s digital library.

Lacking Mayer-Osborn records, we can’t say without further probing or perhaps a site visit.

But we’re happy to pursue yet another thread in the story of our grandfathers’ grain elevators.

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The demise of Mayer-Osborn Construction remains an enduring puzzle

Audrey, Gerald, William and Alice Osborn, ca. 1950

Audrey, Gerald, William and Alice Osborn, circa 1950.

Story by Kristen Cart

Some mysteries are not meant to be solved. Perhaps it is a natural outgrowth of my grandmother’s tight-lipped discretion where evil tidings were concerned. I can remember the disapproving purse of her lips if I broached the wrong topic–it was wise to move on.

Albert Skoog as a boy

Albert Skoog as a boy

Alice Christoffersen married William Osborn in the 1920s. All anyone in our family could know about those times was conveyed in the pleasant images of a young couple goofing around by the lake and fishing. In later pictures you could see the pained expression of a long-suffering middle-aged woman, but her concerns were private, at least when they brought bad memories to mind.

My dad, Jerry Osborn, was quite amazed to find he had a deceased great-uncle, whose name had never been spoken in front of him. Alice Christoffersen’s maternal uncle, Albert Skoog, died young from injuries sustained in a horrific automobile crash when she was a young woman. The story was relegated to the darkest recesses, never to be mentioned again.

“Albert Skoog Dies from Effects of an Auto Accident

Had Lived Nearly Ten Months with a Broken Back

After living nearly ten months with a broken back, during which time he suffered untold agony, Albert Skoog, 42, formerly and employee of the Fremont Stock Yards, died at the home of his sister, Mrs. James L. Christoffersen, south of Fremont. Death was due to injuries sustained in a automobile accident on the Lincoln Highway about a mile east of Fremont last October….”

The article went on to describe the accident and his medical treatment. He died in the family home of Alice’s parents.

This image was found among Grandma's pictures. It was the car her uncle wrecked in an ultimately fatal accident.

The wreck fatally injured Albert Skoog, who died months later from a broken back. Grandma had this photo of the car in an album that once belonged to her mother.

No stone marks his grave. It took many years to locate pictures of him, preserved by a different branch of the Christoffersen clan. Images of the wrecked car also survived, tucked away in Grandma’s photo album. But such things were not discussed in my grandmother’s world.

Another side of Grandma’s personality was not so discrete–she would tell stories that put others in a bad light when she thought she could gain favor for herself. This habit got worse as she aged, and by the time she passed on at age 98, family members believed awful stories about each other because of things she said.

We have tried, without success, to verify Grandma’s story of why my grandpa, William Osborn, got out of the elevator business. Perhaps she invented it. We have no way to tell.

Mayer-Osborn elevator at McCook, Neb. during a family visit, ca 1950. This elevator was the first of its type, a model for the later Blencoe elevator.

Mayer-Osborn elevator at McCook, Neb. during a family visit, circa 1950. This elevator was a prototype for the Blencoe elevator.

Dad never had an inkling about why his dad quit (except that he heard in whispers not intended for him) until Mom started poking around. Grandma told her the story, apparently in a fit of pique. Details were fuzzy, and by now, not well remembered. There’s hardly more to it than speculation. But that one glimpse was the only information we ever got. Otherwise, it “wasn’t discussed,” as Dad put it.

Mom says an elevator was built, and very shortly thereafter, failed. She variously used the terms “collapse,” “explosion,” and “fire.” But the two things she was pretty consistent about were the facts that the concrete mix was wrong because the crew had shorted the materials (possibly for financial gain), and that the collapse occurred as soon as the elevator was filled with grain for the first time. That is all she remembers from what Grandma told her.

Dad says his father was out of the business by 1955. Dad remembers that his dad had come home to Fremont, Neb., from Denver, Colo., the home base of his business, that summer when he should have been on the job. He thinks that his dad was blamed for the failure–Bill’s partner, Gene Mayer, apparently went on without him. But that is all we have.

We don’t know where it happened and haven’t found a newspaper story. We know a large terminal elevator collapsed that year in Fargo, N.D., but we discovered the identity of that builder and it wasn’t Mayer-Osborn. There were whispers about an elevator that had a bad headhouse around Linn, Kan., or Bradshaw, Neb., which might have been his, but that story hasn’t been verified or dated.

The Blencoe, Iowa elevator built by Mayer-Osborn

The Blencoe, Iowa elevator built by Mayer-Osborn

The only story I can verify is the tear-down and restart of the Mayer-Osborn elevator in Blencoe, Iowa. The concrete mix was wrong there, and it cost a few days and quite a lot of money to correct. Could that relatively mundane event in 1954 have created a rift between the partners, Bill Osborn and Gene Mayer? Was the tale of a more dramatic accident simply angry gossip from my grandmother?

Until we know more, it is a skeleton yet to be found, buried in a very deep closet.

 

 

A mystery unfolds at the Tillotson elevator of Blencoe, Iowa

This elevator is attributed to the Tillotson Construction Company of Omaha, but evidence points elsewhere

This elevator is attributed to the Tillotson Construction Company, but evidence points elsewhere.

Story and photos by Kristen Cart

In an earlier post, we showed that the elevator built by the Tillostson Construction Company in the northwest Iowa town of Blencoe had a structural failure prior to completion. A photo provided by Tim Tillotson showed that the concrete slumped over the driveway after the slip-form pour had progressed considerably past the point of failure. Construction would have halted there. The question of how the elevator was completed was never answered.

In the company records we have, the specifications log ended by 1956, while the company continued to build elevators beyond that date. So later records are lost to us. Tim Tillotson estimated that this mishap occurred in about 1955. I discovered, on review, that Blencoe was not in the specifications at all. Why?

A photo of the manhole cover on the rail side of the elevator could provide the answer. It is not typical for Tillotson elevators to have exterior manhole covers on elevators of this type, so the existence of these was a little surprising. More shocking was the identity of the company that placed them.

"Grain Storage Const. Co, 1959, Council Bluffs, Iowa" is embossed on the manhole cover

“Grain Storage Const. Co, 1959, Council Bluffs, Iowa” is embossed on the manhole cover.

The Grain Storage Construction Company of Council Bluffs, Iowa, is not familiar to us. It may be the company called in to repair the damage when the failure occurred.

We don’t know if Tillotson Construction was fired on the spot. But it is also possible that Tillotson was given a second chance–the design of the elevator clearly follows the trademark Tillotson design, whether copied by some one or built by the original contractor.

I wonder if the original repair destroyed the structural integrity of the elevator, and Grain Storage Construction was brought in to replace two of the bins. We know it was a later job because of the 1959 date on the manhole covers. Unfortunately, I made my visit on a Saturday, and the co-op was closed, so there was no one there to ask.

It is a beautiful, functional elevator today. It stands beside the older Mayer-Osborn elevator, which is also clearly in use sixty years after it was built. Both elevators had problems during construction, but the capacity was urgently needed, so both projects were finished. How the Tillotson elevator ultimately became a Grain Construction Company branded elevator is a mystery we will try to solve in a future post.

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